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5/3/2010Italy: Prosecution Advances in Red Light Camera Fraud Scandal
Thirty-eight public officials and corporate officers face charges in Italian red light camera scandal.
The investigation into the fraudulent use of red light cameras in Italy last week concluded with prosecutors preparing charges against thirty-eight public officials and photo enforcement company executives. Prosecutors claim that three photo enforcement companies formed a cartel that operated in collusion with public officials for the purpose of generating revenue. The officials accepted bribes in return for approving lucrative contracts and shortening the duration of yellow lights at intersections equipped with red light cameras.
Last month, Milan prosecutor Alfredo Robledo last month ordered the last raid in the case's investigatory phase. The Guardia di Finanza, a law enforcement arm of the Ministry of Economy and Finance, searched the home of Unione Terre police commander Claudio Malavasi and the home of Andrea Lamoretti, CEO of the technology firm ASCAA Spa. Lamoretti and Raul Cairoli, head of the firm Ci.Ti.Esse, met Malavasi secretly to hand over GPS devices, cell phones, watches and envelopes stuffed with thousands of euros in cash. Malavasi has since been suspended from his official duties.
The town of Segrate, near Milan, has also been at the center of the investigation, with prosecutors receiving complaints from motorists as early as 2006 about abusive practices. Mayor Adriano Alessandrini is now accused of shortening the duration of yellow lights to boost the profits of the red light camera program. The move paid off, with 2,425,801.60 euros (US $3,206,078.01) in revenue generated from motorists who did not have adequate time to stop, according to prosecution documents. The yellow in this case was set at 4.0 seconds with a "grace period" set to the bare minimum of 0.1 seconds -- settings that are extremely common in the US.
Fresagrandinaria Mayor Giovanni Di Stefano, 50, is accused of renting photo enforcement equipment from the firm Euro Service Srl, even though the city already maintained its own automated ticketing machines. Di Stefano's son, Nicola, 34, is the co-owner of Euro Service. Prosecutors also accused the mayor of embezzlement after he gave his son a pair of city-owned computers to use for the preparation of traffic ticket reports. The son issued tickets from his own home using the city's password to the motor vehicle registration database, in violation of laws restricting such access to law enforcement personnel.
The consumer watchdog group ADOC has announced it will launch a class action civil lawsuit against the thirty-five municipalities involved in the scandal.
"T-Red cameras are often used in a non-transparent way, inconsistent with their purpose," ADOC President Carlo Pileri said in a statement. "In many cases, photo ticketing has been adopted as a way of imposing new, and sometimes absurd, local taxes, solely to swell the municipal coffers."
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